NISSAN'S great new hope for European domination began rolling off the Sunderland production line last night.

The new Primera is a large family car designed with European drivers in mind.

Nissan hopes its new model's bold new looks will help boost sales of the car to nearly 140,000 a year, a huge boost for its award-winning factory in Sunderland.

But the new Primera will face a tough task if it is to boost Nissan sales at a time when sales have never been harder to achieve.

The large family vehicle segment of the market, to which the Primera belongs, is under attack from models in classes above and below.

Medium-sized hatchbacks, such as the Ford Focus, have grown up and prestige manufacturers, such as BMW and Audi, have launched smaller cars to take the battle to the Primera class.

Some pundits reckon the non-premium large family car may soon be a thing of the past, just as many mass market manufacturers have already pulled out of the executive car class.

Nissan stylists have attempted to give the new model a more distinctive image. Certainly, the new Primera is a more unusual looking car than the rather conservative model it replaces. Its introduction also brings Christmas cheer in the form of 300 temporary jobs at the plant.

Nissan Motor Manufacturing managing director John Cushaghan, who yesterday threw open the doors of the plant to show off the new model, said: "This is an important day for the plant and for industry in the North-East. The car is brand new from top to bottom.

"Today was planned two years ago and the first car has arrived bang on schedule."

For an investment of £215m, the Sunderland plant will have the capacity to build 140,000 new Primeras a year, with more than 80 per cent of that production being exported.

The new car also marks the end of an era at the Sunderland plant. In future all contracts with component suppliers will be drawn up by a team based in Paris.

Nissan and its French partner, Renault, will negotiate jointly in a bid to drive down prices for component parts.

Bosses at Nissan UK claim the strength of the pound makes British components more expensive than similar parts manufactured in the Euro zone.

Some of the group's tier one suppliers have reacted to the threat by investing in new tooling to make parts even more efficiently but there are fears some will lose out.

l The launch of the Primera came alongside better news on the jobs front for the region, with two employers announcing plans to bring in more employment.

TRW, which has already announced plans to cut 150 jobs in east Durham, may have retrieved many of them thanks to a Government grant.

Meanwhile D-CECC Ltd, at Haverton Hill on Teesside, hopes to create about 200 jobs over the next year.

Automotive parts supplier TRW plans to merge two Peterlee plants into one with the loss of 150 jobs, but it is planning a big investment in its Houghton-le-Spring operation on Wearside.

The vehicle airbag and steering equipment operations will receive the funding through DTI regional selective assistance grants of £650,000 and £245,000.

The larger grant will help the company to develop a new line of electric powered hydraulic steering equipment, creating up to 100 jobs. The other will be invested in TRW's airbag section to produce specialist control products for Volkswagen and Seat, creating about 50 jobs on a third assembly line at the plant.

D-CECC Ltd has been contracted by engineering company Qualter Hall to construct two tunnel boring machines at its Haverton Hill construction yard.

The machines will eventually be used in the building of two stages of the Channel rail link project.

The project will provide work for about 100 people in a six-month period and it is hoped this will be increased to 200 by the end of next year.

David Eason, managing director of D-CECC, said: "I believe this should open up the prospect of revitalising the Haverton Hill site, which has some of the best facilities in the country for this type of work."